Benefit cuts and Brexit squeeze to leave 3 million families £2,500 worse off Three million households will be hit to the tune of £2,500 a year
Planned benefit cuts by the Conservative government combined with soaring inflation will leave nearly 3 million working households an average of £2,500 a year worse off, according to analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
Low inflation over the last two years has meant the government's freeze on most working-age benefits has only amounted to a 1% real cut so far.
But rising inflation from the falling pound is now set to reduce the value of these benefits by 5% between now and 2020, with total cuts of over £5 billion a year in the long run.
Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Susan Kramer commented: "Theresa May’s plans for a divisive Hard Brexit and savage cuts to benefits will leave millions of working families worse off.
"Three million households will be hit to the tune of £2,500 a year as a result of cuts to tax credits, rising prices and the falling pound.
"The Brexit squeeze will hit people in the pocket across the country, with the poorest families hit hardest.
"This election is a chance to change Britain's future and stop a disastrous hard Brexit that will leave us all poorer.
"Every Liberal Democrat MP elected is a challenge to Theresa May’s Hard Brexit agenda."
Elections campaigns so often come down to hope against fear, but Liberal Democrats need to harness both to succeed this year, writes Ben Westwood
“Be afraid, be very afraid”. Hardly an inspiring rallying call in progressive politics, but scaremongering is a strategy that has won elections for left and right wing alike, and we cannot ignore that in this campaign.
The Labour party used that very slogan in the 2001 general election, depicting William Hague on a campaign billboard resplendent with a Margaret Thatcher hairdo, an image designed to give the British electorate nightmares. It worked and Hague’s Conservatives took a humiliating beating at the ballot box. It was a far cry from Labour’s strategy of hope from four years earlier – “Things can only get better”. But this is a well-known formula: a message of hope in opposition, and a message of fear when in government.
Little has changed since the days of Blair, but fear seems to have gained an upper hand recently. The 2015 election was a battle of who can scare who the most. Labour warned on cuts – “Next time they’ll cut to the bone” – but they couldn’t beat the Conservatives at their own game. The fear of Ed Miliband’s incompetence, sitting in the pocket of the SNP on campaign posters, won the day for Cameron.
However, voters can tire of endless scare-mongering, as seen in last year’s EU Referendum campaign. The Remain campaign allowed Leave to seize the hopeful message embodied in Boris Johnson’s bumbling joie de vivre, while concentrating on the dire consequences of EU departure. Remain failed in the face of patriotic slogans of regaining independence and spending money on Britain instead. But alongside these hopeful messages, the Leave campaign used fear in an effective counter-balance – Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster may have caused uproar but it struck a chord with millions of disenfranchised voters looking for someone to blame. And as for the “remoaners” – they’re an out-of-touch liberal elite, as former banker Nigel Farage pointed out, even as he visited Donald Trump in his gold-plated lift.
This fear of the liberal elite, used so effectively by Trump in last year’s US election, is going to be a big factor in the coming weeks. The Conservatives and UKIP would have us believe that the liberal elite is trying to defy democracy through the courts and in parliament. Only a general election can deliver us from evil enemies of the people. After all, what do judges know?
This Conservative narrative – however warped in our eyes – is a persuasive one because it combines hope for a brighter Brexit with fear of those trying to ruin the process. It helps hugely that the massive machinery of big money donors and media moguls are backing this message. The Tories outspent all the other political parties put together in 2015, and with the daily artillery fire on whingeing liberals and dangerously deluded Corbynites from Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s Sun, the odds are stacked heavily in their favour once again.
So between a heartless right wing machine and a clueless left wing opposition, where does this leave the Liberal Democrats who lost 49 MPs two years ago? With our yellow ‘liberty bird’ emblem, we have always been a party of hope, built on the principles of freedom, democracy, openness and free trade. We have never been an angry party, but now is the time to harness fear and righteous indignation because our principles are under attack.
The Conservatives’ strategy will undoubtedly be to keep the debate firmly on Brexit – an issue where Theresa May feels she has popular support – but that may backfire in Remain-voting constituencies such as mine in Lewes. We have already seen this in Richmond and we need to ensure it happens across the country so that returning to a powerbase of 50 or 60 seats is well within our grasp. People are fearful of a hard Brexit and, while we must champion our positive vision of Europe as a haven for freedom, we cannot ignore the fact that the Conservatives could be leading us off an economic cliff-edge. Businesspeople, many of whom have usually seen the Conservatives as their party of choice, need to realise that so many Tories are willing to lead Britain to the disaster of crashing out of the EU with no deal and reverting to WTO rules. Boris Johnson doesn’t think it’s a problem, and with his bank balance, why should he? It is businesses and their employees who will bear the brunt of this chaos.
However, we must not let the Conservatives make this election all about Brexit. A BBC Populus poll at the last election showed that the NHS and the economy were the biggest issues, ahead of immigration, and that welfare and education were far more important to voters than the EU. I doubt that has changed – people fear for their health, their bank balance, their safety net and their children’s future more than anything else.
We know that there is much to be fearful about another five years of Conservative government because we’ve already had glimpses of it. Let off the leash with no moderate coalition partner to keep them in check in the past two years, the Conservatives have happily hacked away at the welfare state. The NHS is in crisis with creeping privatisation, crippling debts and rock-bottom morale. Our schools are under threat from funding cuts, something that the Tories pledged not to do. The most vulnerable in our society are seeing their welfare payments cut – from the disabled to widowed parents, of which I am one.
Of course we cannot go knocking on doors scaring people like some kind of yellow peril, but there is a lot on the line in this election. The elderly, who so often vote Conservative, need to realise that the Conservatives are imposing cuts on social care budgets that mean nursing homes cannot cope. It is the Conservatives who allow waiting lists to lengthen and preside over a health system on the brink of collapse. Parents need to realise that the Conservatives are overburdening their children’s education with tests, while quietly cutting school’s budgets.
We cannot base our entire campaign on scaremongering but fear will play a big part in this election. We need to address these fears, harness the energy and indignation, and transform it into a positive message that we are the only party that combines compassion with economic competence, and that we will stand in the way of Conservative policies that will do harm to every sector of society, as we did with some success during the coalition government. We should be proud of that too and proud of our resurgence. Progressive-minded people across the country are flocking to the Liberal Democrats in their thousands. Both hope and fear can drive us forward. Be afraid yes, but be inspired too – this just might be the biggest political fight of your lives.
- Ben Westwood is a journalist, author and lecturer in politics and media at University of Brighton. firstname.lastname@example.org
Southern Fail has become a pressing issue in both constituencies, with commuters angry at a Government that inexplicably supports the rail operator, paying ticket refunds out of taxpayers’ money
This general election can’t come soon enough for Liberal Democrats in my neck of the woods. I live on the cusp of two constituencies which turned from yellow to blue in 2015, and we now have a chance to win back seats the party should never have lost.
The parallels between Eastbourne and Lewes are striking – both had popular Liberal Democrat MPs with healthy majorities overturned by the Conservatives two years ago. This was no Tory surge though – their party’s votes barely moved and actually fell slightly in Eastbourne – winning by just 733 votes there and by 1,083 in Lewes. The Liberal Democrats clearly bore the brunt of coalition-bashing as voters defected to Labour, Greens or stayed at home. These are the people the party needs to win back this time round.
Despite the political similarities, Eastbourne and Lewes are very different. Eastbourne is the seaside town shaking off its ‘God’s waiting room’ image with an economic boom and rapidly growing young population, while market town Lewes is famed for breweries, antique shops and boisterous Bonfire celebrations. Both have flourishing tourism and commuter populations, but the EU referendum highlighted a key difference – Eastbourne voted decisively to leave while Lewes plumped overwhelmingly to remain.
Veteran campaigner Stephen Lloyd is standing again in Eastbourne after a petition by constituents dismayed by his defeat. He first stood for parliament in 2001 and won Eastbourne in 2010, defeating Conservative Nigel Waterson. Very popular locally, Lloyd established over 3000 apprenticeships and pushed hard on the redevelopment of the town centre. He has continued working for Eastbourne despite losing his seat, and it often feels as if the town has two MPs.
On Brexit, Lloyd promised to respect the referendum. Reflecting his history of breaking ranks with the party hierarchy (he voted against tuition fee increases during the Coalition), Lloyd refuses to support a second referendum, a key pledge of leader Tim Farron. However, Kelly-Marie Blundell, one of the new generation who replaced retiring Norman Baker as candidate for Lewes, has a very different stance. She is unashamedly pro-EU and backs a second referendum, secure in the knowledge that Lewes backed Remain very strongly.
But beyond Brexit, on the doorstep and on social media alike, local people have more important concerns. Health and social care, the number one issue in a BBC poll at the last election, is top of the list. The Government’s decision to move maternity services from Eastbourne to Hastings was deeply unpopular, while Lewes suffers from having no hospital – patients have to travel miles to Brighton, Haywards Heath or Eastbourne. Adult social care is also under immense pressure from a Conservative-led East Sussex County Council that aims to save £56 million over the next three years.
Transport has become a pressing issue in both constituencies recently with Southern Fail consistently failing to deliver anything approaching an adequate train service in the face of strikes. It has reached crisis point in the past year and there is huge anger from thousands of commuters at a Government that steadfastly and inexplicably supports the rail operator, paying ticket refunds out of taxpayers’ money.
On all these issues incumbent Conservative MPs Caroline Ansell and Maria Caulfield are vulnerable. They claim to understand people’s concerns but cannot escape the fact that their party is pushing through cuts to everything from disability payments to widow’s benefits, and from schools to hospitals, while supporting big business over local people when voting for fracking on our Downs.
Neither MP can dispel the feeling that they are out of touch. Ansell recently asserted in the face of mass complaints from headteachers that Eastbourne would suffer no school cuts as a result of the Government’s new funding formula, in direct contradiction to estimates from the National Audit Office. Ansell is from the richest area of Eastbourne, Meads, and has invited derision by mispronouncing the name of one of her constituency’s least privileged areas, Langney, in a recent vlog post. Caulfield is gaining a reputation for being similarly out of touch – she doesn’t even live in her Lewes constituency.
Buoyed by a surge in membership towards 100,000, Liberal Democrats are highly motivated here. Much depends on the floating voters who drifted away to left-wing parties last time, and on the fear and anger felt by Remainers. Much also depends on fundraising, as the Lib Dems rely mainly on smaller contributions from local supporters. This is vital in challenging the far better funded incumbents. Two years ago, the Conservative machine spent more than every other party combined, buying front page advertorials in Johnston Press newspapers and plastering constituencies with billboards of Ed Miliband in Nicola Sturgeon’s pocket. We are confident it won’t work this time.
Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell rather patronisingly referred to the Liberal Democrats last week as one of the “minor political parties”. That’s motivation enough to show everyone what we’re made of. Bring it on.
Ben Westwood is a journalist, author and lecturer in politics and media at University of Brighton.
Liberal Democrats expected to surpass 100,000 members Voters flock to Liberal Democrats after Theresa May calls snap general election
The Liberal Democrat membership surge is about to take the party to a landmark 100,000 members – thanks to a staggering 12,500 joining since Theresa May announced the snap General Election last Tuesday.
Reaching six figures makes the party bigger than it has been since the mid-1990s and puts it on course to reach its highest membership ever within days. The biggest the party has been since its formation is 101,768 in 1994.
It means that more than 50,000 members have joined since last year’s European referendum and more than 67,500 since the 2015 General Election.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron pledged to build the party to 100,000 members by the end of the parliament as a key pledge during his 2015 leadership campaign - but at that point everyone expected the end of the parliament to be 2020.
Tim Farron said:
“Thousands of people are joining the Liberal Democrats every day because they want to change Britain’s future.
“People want a strong opposition to Theresa May’s Hard Brexit agenda and the Liberal Democrats are the only party challenging them up and down the country. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has completely failed, offering no opposition whatsoever and giving Theresa May a blank cheque to pursue a Hard Brexit.
“This election is your chance to change the direction of our country. If you want to stop a disastrous Hard Brexit, if you want to keep Britain in the Single Market, if you want a strong opposition to fight for an open, tolerant and united Britain, this is your chance.”
The landmark figure is just the latest sign of the party’s gathering momentum:
- The latest poll in Sunday’s Observer gave the party a four point increase. The party is consistently polling between 11-14%, close to double its average for most of 2015 and 2016.
- We are on a winning streak. Not only did we win the Richmond Park by-election in stunning style in December 2016, we have had an astonishing run of council by-election gains – more than 30 since last May – making it the best year for by-election gains in the party’s history. We are winning from the Tories, Labour and UKIP, and in areas that voted both Leave and Remain. We are also the only party to have increased its share of the vote in every recent parliamentary by-election.
- We have over-taken Labour in fundraising. In the last quarter of 2016, the Liberal Democrats raised nearly £2m – more money than the Labour Party for the first time ever.
Conservative councillor for Walton South, Christine Elmer leaves the Conservative Party and switches her allegiance to the Liberal Democrats
Having spent 11 years working for the Conservatives, Walton South councillor Christine Elmer, has joined the Liberal Democrats party today. She announced her departure on Twitter saying:
"I can no longer be a Conservative due to this Gov's hard Brexit. I have today joined the Lib Dems" whilst sharing the link to the Liberal Democrats member sign-up page.
Against the Conservative Brexit, Christine Elmer said:
"I have been unhappy for some time with the political direction of the Conservative party. In recent days this situation had escalated by a series of events, including the announcement by the Prime Minister of a general election about the handling of the terms of the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union.
As a fervent Remainer I find I can no longer support the government's line on this, nor that of the current MP Dominic Raab. I now find it impossible to be a member of the Conservative party and have therefore decided to join the Liberal Democrat party.
I have served Walton South ward since 2006. In 2014 for the first time in 40 years of Elmbridge Council electoral history I was returned unopposed and in 2016 I received the highest number of votes in the all-out elections called for the ward. I therefore believe I have a personal mandate to continue in office. It is not my intention to cause a by-election.
I will do my best to continue to represent my constituents of Walton South and to look after their interests regardless of political interest. I feel I will be better able to do that as a member of a political party that I can support 100% both at a national level and locally. That party is the Liberal Democrat party."
Richard Waller, Chairman of the Elmbridge Liberal Democrats extended her a warm welcome:
"The Elmbridge Liberal Democrats are delighted to welcome Christine Elmer to the party. She is recognised as being a highly competent Elmbridge councillor and in addition will reinforce our voice opposing a hard Brexit nationally."
Andrew Davis, Liberal Democrat candidate for Esher & Walton in the General Election sees this as part of a growing trend:
"In Esher and Walton, we are seeing more and more people choosing to support the Liberal Democrats. Christine Elmer is one of many. Support for the Liberal Democrats is growing locally and nationally. The Conservatives lost their majority here in the 2016 borough council elections. And in the last six days, since the snap election was called, we've had 12,500 new members join the party.
"Elmbridge is pro-Europe and 60% of us here voted Remain. Yet Dominic Raab, the local Conservative MP, is pushing for a hard Brexit. The majority here don't want a hard Brexit. People here are making their voices heard and choosing Liberal Democrats for Esher and Walton."
About Christine Elmer
Christine Elmer has lived in Elmbridge for over 50 years and has represented Walton South as a Conservative member since May 2006. She was Cabinet Member for Corporate Development from 2008-2010, and has held the post of cabinet member for Social Affairs since May 2010. From 2001-2007 she was a senior policy advisor at DEFRA.
She is married to Chris, a former Elmbridge councillor, who also left the Conservative Party last year to join the Liberal Democrats following the EU referendum. They have two children.
Liberal Democrats rule out coalition with May’s Conservatives or Corbyn’s Labour Tim Farron rules out coalition deals with Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn
Tim Farron has ruled out doing any coalition deals with Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn after the election.
Every Liberal Democrat vote and every Liberal Democrat MP elected is a challenge to Theresa May’s Hard Brexit agenda. In the next parliament we will fight to stop a disastrous Hard Brexit, keep Britain in the Single Market and make sure people have their say on the final Brexit deal in a referendum with remain as an option.
We don't rule out future coalitions - we believe in plural politics - but we won't do one with May or Corbyn.
This election is your chance to change the direction of our country. If you want to stop a Hard Brexit, if you want to keep us in the Single Market, if you want a real opposition, this is your chance. But you can only do that by voting Liberal Democrat.
With a large number of pro-European Lib Dem MPs in the next parliament we can force the government to soften its approach to Brexit and give people the final say over what comes next.
What about the Tories?
Under no conditions can we sign up to Theresa May's Hard Brexit agenda. She is going to be the Prime Minister - that's not in doubt. Our job will be to hold her to account and fight for the things we believe in – above all else our membership of the single market and for the people to have the final say on the deal.
What about Labour?
Everybody knows Jeremy Corbyn won't be the next Prime Minister. There is no prospect of a coalition that would put him in power. There are many issues that Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree on and many people on their side that we respect - but we won't put Corbyn into power. He is pro-Brexit, has promised to pull us out of the single market and marched his MPs and Peers through the lobbies to vote for article 50 without any concessions from the Tories. On top of that, he would be a disaster for the country - he has no plan for the country, our economy and offers no leadership.
Are you ruling out a progressive alliance?
We want to work with like-minded, pro-European people of all parties and none to oppose Theresa May's Hard Brexit agenda and fight for a Britain that is open, tolerant and united. But everyone knows Jeremy Corbyn won't be the next Prime Minister and we wouldn't want him to be. We will work with pro-European MPs in any party to stand up to the Conservatives over Hard Brexit, but Corbyn is not that - and there is no prospect of a coalition that would put him in power.
Would you join a coalition with the SNP?
We won’t be doing a deal with the SNP at Westminster because, whatever they might say, they are only interested in getting independence. They will not be interested in making a success of the UK.
Jeremy Corbyn can't lead his party, let alone a country Jeremy Corbyn is never going to be Prime Minister because he can't even lead his own party
Jeremy Corbyn is never going to be Prime Minister because he can't even lead his own party, the Liberal Democrats have said.
Responding to Jeremy Corbyn's speech today, Liberal Democrat Shadow First Secretary of State Alistair Carmichael said: “Jeremy Corbyn is never going to be Prime Minister. He can’t lead his own party, let alone our country. The more people see him, the less they want to vote for him.
"That is not just my view. It is the view of the 172 Labour MPs who just last year said they had no confidence in his leadership.
“That’s why senior Labour figures such as Bob Marshall-Andrews are defecting to the Liberal Democrats.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has waved the white flag on Brexit, is failing as an opposition and has given Theresa May a blank cheque to pursue a divisive Hard Brexit. They are hopelessly divided, have no plan for the economy and are clearly unfit for government.
“This is your chance to change the direction of our country. If you want to avoid a disastrous Hard Brexit, if you want to keep Britain in the Single Market, if you want Britain to have a decent opposition – vote Liberal Democrat.
“The Liberal Democrats are the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit Government and the only party fighting for a Britain that is open, tolerant and united."
Tim Farron on TV debates: What is Theresa May so scared of? The Prime Minister has so far refused to take part
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has called out Theresa May for refusing to take part in televised debates as ITV announced they will go ahead with a leaders' debate.
Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions today, Tim Farron said: “This election can change the direction of our country. From the consequences of potential hard Brexit outside the Single Market to the future of our NHS and social care, schools and environment.
“The British people deserve to hear party leaders set out their plans and debate them publicly. But the Prime Minister has refused to take part in televised leaders’ debates.
“The Prime Minister and I, back in 1992, debated publicly, forcibly and amicably when we were both candidates together.
“Indeed, the Prime Minister called out the then incumbent who did not show up for some of those debates.
“Why will she not publicly debate these issues now - what is she scared of?”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron responds to snap general election announcement
If you want to avoid a disastrous Hard Brexit. If you want to keep Britain in the Single Market. If you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance.
What this means for Britain
Only the Liberal Democrats can prevent a Conservative majority.
Labour won’t win any seats off the Conservatives.
The SNP could only possibly win one seat off the Conservatives.
But there are dozens of Conservative seats where the Lib Dems are the challengers. The only way to stop Theresa May winning a majority is by the Lib Dems winning in those seats.
The only way to prevent a Conservative majority is by voting Liberal Democrat.
The Liberal Democrats are the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit Government and the only party fighting for a Britain that is open, tolerant and united.
Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael explains what this means for Britain:
How you can help
If you want to change the direction of your country, join the Liberal Democrats today.
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Catherine Bearder on cracking form in the European Parliament.